6 Tips for Making Friends
Q Our son Robin is 7 years old. He’s an only child. Robin worries me because he doesn’t have friends or seem interested in making friends with other children. Robin does play games with my husband and me. But I think he’d have a lot more fun if he had friends his age. What can my husband and I do to help him connect with other children?
A There are lots of reasons for a child not to have friends. Sometimes the child is an introvert who gets his energy from having alone time in contrast to extroverts who energize by being around others. Occasionally, parents and other adults in a child’s life have not modeled the behavior for meeting people, making friends and maintaining those relationships. Without role models for making friends, a shy child might have no idea what to say or do to meet other children and to begin the social process of being and having a friend. Then there are children who fall on the autistic spectrum who may have mild enough cases to escape diagnosis but who are consequently less social. Another reason for not having same age friends is that some intelligent children prefer to interact with adults. Others prefer to play on the computer and may not have time for friends, if allowed to spend a lot of their time online. One father I interviewed said he did not have friends growing up because he lived in an area where there were no other children his age and the opportunities to meet kids outside of his neighborhood were slim.
A good place to begin is to talk to Robin about how he is feeling and what he thinks he needs socially. Does he feel lonely, left out or thankful to get time alone? Then consider some of these suggestions to help meet his social needs:
- If your child goes to school, ask the teacher for help. A teacher can identify a child who might do well interacting with your child and arrange for them to do a project together or suggest a play date.
- Model social skills for your child, such as introducing yourself to someone and asking the person a question to start a conversation. Roleplay with your child how to say hello and to ask questions of another child like “Do you have a pet? What games do you like to play?”
- Know, encourage and facilitate your child’s interests. If possible, get him in a group to share these interests, whether in person or virtually.
- Find an opportunity when your child is able and open to talking with you. Have a discussion about what friendship means and what makes a good friend.
- Talk to another parent about a supervised play date. Roleplay with your child about playing with another child.
- Practice social skills with your child. This includes sharing, taking turns and understanding the concept of losing well or trying again to win at games. This is especially important for children with ADHD but for other children as well.
I know you have Robin’s best interest at heart, but you can’t decide how social Robin needs to be and shape him into that level of sociability. What you can do is assist him by trying some of the suggestions above to increase his sociability. Thank you for sharing this question that is probably on the minds of a lot of other parents too.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.